Arduino Uno
Photo by adafruitPublished under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa License

The Arduino is a microcontroller, but it’s better described as “an open source electronics prototyping platform.”

And what does that mean?

The term “open source” is usually applied to software, and in that context it refers to software that is free. Not just free to download, but free to modify as you wish. (There’s some distinction between “open source software” and “free software” but I won’t get into that here. It’s safe to say that both of them give you the rights to make changes to the software.)

As for the “electronics prototyping platform” part of it… That’s what it is. A platform for building things with electronics. If you’ve built your own microcontrollers in the past, the Arduino may not be very exciting, but for beginners, or people looking for a platform to build upon, it’s a good thing. (And the open source part makes it even better.)

So what can you do with an Arduino? Here’s a few ideas…

Those are just a few of the interesting projects I came across in the last week. There’s also a nice long list of Arduino user projects in the Playground, and I’ve started to collect Arduino links.

Where can you get one? Adafruit Industries is one place, Maker Shed is another, and SparkFun is another. (See the SparkFun Buying Guide.) If you’re just getting started, I’d recommend the Arduino Uno (which was just released in fall 2010.) Since the Arduino is “open source” hardware, there are also clones you can buy, and each has strengths and weaknesses… but if you just want to start playing, get the Arduino Uno.

Right now I’m just working through a lot of tutorials, writing test code, having a bit of fun, and thinking up some interesting project ideas… How about you?

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